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DanceBlue Inspired UK Alum to Study, Fight Health Disparities
Kentucky Ag Connection - 02/14/2018

Jordan McDowell, a 2014 alumnus of the University of Kentucky, has always been interested in the ways having a child with a chronic illness affects families. Part of this interest comes from his own experience with sickle cell disease. As an undergraduate, McDowell studied family science and earned a minor in psychology; he volunteered with the American Cancer Society and was involved with DanceBlue. Those experiences are what motivate him to continue his education, pursue research and advocate for improved health policy.

"DanceBlue changed my life. DanceBlue is the reason I went into research," McDowell said.

He was involved with DanceBlue, the student-run organization that fundraises year-round for pediatric oncology and culminates in a 24-hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon, for much of his time at UK. For two years, McDowell served on the morale committee, and in his final year he was the line dance coordinator, choreographing an 11-minute dance taught to the nearly 1,000 participants.

After completing his undergraduate studies at UK, McDowell entered graduate school, receiving his master's in applied developmental psychology. During this time, he conducted research on the transition from pediatric care to adult care and how patients' ecological setting impacts the maintenance of their health. McDowell said, "UK prepared me for the course work by giving me great professors and enabling me to pursue an internship at the American Cancer Society volunteering at a camp for kids with cancer. All these experiences, especially with DanceBlue, gave me great insight into how children develop while battling an illness."

McDowell knows first-hand the experiences and difficulties a child with a chronic illness can have when transitioning from their parents' care to a new environment like college. "During my time at the University of Kentucky, I had to overcome many obstacles including pain from my chronic illness."

As a child, McDowell was diagnosed with sickle cell disease, a severe hereditary form of anemia in which a mutated form of hemoglobin distorts the red blood cells into a crescent shape which can block blood flow and cause severe pain.

"There were many times I felt helpless; it definitely wasn't easy, but I made it work," he said. "I suffered through pain and tiredness often but never let it break me."

In 2017, McDowell began pursuing his doctorate in public health at the University of Louisville. His interests have shifted slightly -- McDowell is now focusing on health policy that will improve access to information and treatment for those with chronic illnesses. The pursuit of this particular area of interest was initiated by a question McDowell began to ask himself -- " Why didn't I get the quality health care during my adolescent and young adult years that I needed?"

After finishing his doctorate, McDowell wants to focus on increasing funding for research to support families affected by health disparities and advocate for the implementation of policies that require hospitals to implement and follow procedures to improve the transition of care for adolescents and young adults as they move from pediatric to adult care. "All in all," McDowell says, "I just want to make a difference in the health and lives of people.

"UK gave me the drive to start, and I continue to keep learning and understanding ways my past will help others. College saved my life. It made me self-sufficient and a healthier person. I have UK, DanceBlue and many physicians in my later years to thank for that."

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